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Pablo Picasso paints his mistress’ daughter

April 14, 2009 Art, Impressionist 1 Comment

Of the lots coming to auction in Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale, in New York on May 5, 2009, Pablo Picasso’s LA FILLE DE L’ARTISTE À DEUX ANS ET DEMI AVEC UN BATEAU is my favorite. Not just because of the image, but the story behind the painting is quite fascinating. Estimated to sell between 16 and 24 million USD, this painting also graces the catalogue’s cover.

Close-up of the details.

 

 From the Catalogue:

 
MEASUREMENTS
measurements
28 3/4 by 21 1/4 in.alternate measurements
73 by 54 cm
DESCRIPTION
Painted in 1938.Dated 5.2.38 (lower right)Oil on canvas
PROVENANCE
Estate of the artist
Marina Picasso, Paris (inherited from the above in 1973)
Galerie Krugier, Geneva (on consignment from the above)
Arnold Katzen, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1986
EXHIBITED
 Milan, Palazzo Reale, Pablo Picasso, 1953, no. 81, illustrated in the catalogueRome, Galleria nazionale d’arte moderna & Paris, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Pablo Picasso, 1953, no. 28, illustrated in the catalogueVenice, Centro di Cultura di Palazzo Grassi, Picasso: Opere dal 1895 al 1971 dalla Collezione Marina Picasso, 1981, no. 250, illustrated in the catalogueMunich, Haus der Kunst; Cologne, Josef-Haubrich-Kunsthalle; Frankfurt, Städtische Galerie im Städelschen Kunstinstitut & Zurich, Kunsthaus, Pablo Picasso: eine Ausstellung zum hundertsten Geburtstag, Werke aus der Sammlung Marina Picasso, 1981-82, no. 195, illustrated in the catalogueTokyo, National Museum of Modern Art & Kyoto, Kyoto Municipal Museum, Picasso: Masterpieces from the Marina Picasso Collection and Museums in U.S.A and U.S.S.R., 1983, no. 155, illustrated in the catalogueRoslyn Harbor, New York, Nassau County Museum of Art, Long Island Collects, 2002, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Roslyn Harbor, New York, Nassau County Museum of Art, European Art Between the World Wars, 2004, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Roslyn Harbor, New York, Nassau County Museum of Art, Master Artworks from Private Collections, 2005

 
LITERATURE AND REFERENCES
 

Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso: Oeuvres de 1937 à 1939, vol. IX, Paris, 1958, no. 98, illustrated pl. 44 (as dating from January 3, 1938)

David Douglas Duncan, Picasso’s Picassos, New York, 1961, no. 81, illustrated p. 230

Helen Kay, Picasso’s World of Children, New York, 1965, illustrated p. 116

The Picasso Project, Picasso’s Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings, and Sculpture: Spanish Civil War 1937- 1939, San Francisco, 1997, no. 38-026, illustrated p. 132 (titled Maya au bateau)

 
CATALOGUE NOTE
 

A spirited Maya Picasso, aged two-and-a-half, is the subject of this vivid portrait from 1938. Painted only months after he had finished his harrowing Guernica, this picture clearly evidences that Maya was a great source of joy in Picasso’s life, even on the eve of the Second World War. Maya was the daughter of Picasso’s young mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter, born in secrecy in 1935 while Picasso was still married to Olga. The baby girl presented new and delightful artistic challenges for her father, as Maya once explained in a reminiscence: “I was to bring something new to his interpretation of a child: I was a girl. From one point of view it was marvelous – a child he had had with Marie-Thérèse, a daughter, the worst woman in a man’s life apart from his mother – the impossible mistress! He had to find a way of seducing this little goddess!” (quoted in Werner Spies, ed., Picasso’s World of Children, New York, 1991, p. 60).
Picasso’s palette for this picture captures the liveliness and playfulness of Maya’s nursery. For the background he has chosen a robin’s egg blue, which he also uses for the highlights of her blonde hair. He depicts her holding a favorite toy boat, which features in other portraits from this time, and a colorful pinwheel in her chubby hand. Although her face is depicted with the Surrealist distortion that was common in Picasso’s pictures of Dora Maar and Marie-Thérèse from this era, her body is distinctly that of a child. “With a dab of color, a particular gesture, or the placing of a foot, he was able to capture the character of each of us” Maya remembers. “I, for example, am rather a fidget, and some portraits of me show me with arms and legs as if dislocated through such agitation. That’s how I was then. That’s how I am still.” (ibid., p. 65).

The playful essence of Picasso’s daughter, who was a constant presence in his studio, has been captured in this bold composition. While her father worked on the large canvas for Guernica, Maya would innocently pat her hands on the surface, recognizing the distinguishable profile of her mother in the faces of the anguished victims of the massacre. Maya, in fact, bore many of the physical characteristics of Marie-Thérèse, and Picasso preserved those features in his portraits of the toddler. In the midst of painterly elements of abstraction and exaggeration, we can see the distinct, dimpled chin of the little girl, whose almond-shaped eyes and rigid bone-structure are clearly traits of her Tutonic provenance. Maya wrote that the portraits that her father painted of her were “unbelievably true to life. Everything’s here: my little girl’s clothes, my hair, even my toys, and yet…these are marvelous portraits” (ibid., p. 58).

Portraiture captured Picasso’s imagination perhaps more than any other subject in his oeuvre. These canvases were a means for him to express any given emotion, be it his passion for Marie-Thérèse, his resentment towards Olga or his adoration for his children. In fact, it is in Picasso’s portraits of his children – Paulo, Maya, Paloma and Claude – that we see the artist at his most joyous and content, and his depictions of children at play are perhaps the most exuberant of all of his canvases. It was no secret that Picasso revered childhood, and in his art he attempted to capture the spirit and freedom that usually eludes adults. Playing with his children presented him with an opportunity to reclaim his lost youth, and his portraits of them were extensions of that cherished playtime. Maya remembers how her father would become engrossed in depicting his children, and how he approached the endeavor with all of his senses: “With his eyes he looked at us. With his hands he drew and modeled us. With his skin, his nostrils, his hear, his soul, even his guts, he felt what we were, what was concealed within us, our essence. This, I think, is why he had such enormous insights into human beings, however young they might be” (ibid., p. 57).

As was the case for his favorite portraits of family members, this stunning picture remained in Picasso’s collection until his death in 1973. After that, it was inherited by Maya’s niece, Marina, the daughter of her half-brother Paulo.

Link: Sotheby’s, Sale N0. 8546, Lot 15.

Currently there is "1 comment" on this Article:

  1. Karen says:

    Picasso never fails to amaze me…wow.

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